Romania violates the right to respect for private and family life of same-sex couples, ECHR rules

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Romania violates the right to respect the private and family life of 21 Romanian same-sex couples because it doesn’t legally recognize their unions.

Wedding ring
Ilustration | © Joseph Pearson

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on May 23 that Romania violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the right to respect for private and family life.

Between 2019 and 2020, 21 same-sex couples lodged applications with the European Court of Human Rights because they could not legally safeguard their relationships. The applicants live in various parts of Romania and were born between 1967 and 1996.

In Romania, only heterosexual marriages are legally recognized by law. There have been attempts to change the legislation but they all failed in Parliament. The current government has no intention to open the legalization of same-sex marriages.

Consequently, the couples argued in Court that they could not access numerous social and civil rights available under the law to married couples and to regulate areas such as property, maintenance and inheritance within the couple.

According to the Court, “none of the government’s arguments regarding same-sex marriage could outweigh the applicants’ interest in having their unions recognized.”

Romanian government claimed private contractual arrangements could guarantee the rights sought by the couples but the ECHR judges found the argument lacked detail and had already been rejected in the Court’s case-law.

Furthermore, the Court stated that negative attitudes on the part of the heterosexual majority could not override the applicants’ interests in having their relationships recognized, and that allowing recognition of same-sex unions would not harm the institution of marriage, as opposite-sex couples could still marry.

The applicants also said Romania discriminated against them, which the ECHR didn’t consider necessary to examine, given the decision regarding Article 8.

European Union member states must provide a legal framework allowing legal recognition and protection of the relationship of same-sex couples.

It is not necessarily marriage but can also be a civil union. The Court considers Romania has discretion regarding the form of the recognition and the type of protection granted.

Reacting to the ECHR decision, the Romanian Orthodox Church categorically rejected the idea of a civil union because it is a first step toward legalizing same-sex marriage. Vasile Bănescu, the spokesperson of the Romanian Patriarchate, stated that a “civil partnership is a surrogate of marriage and a destructive element of the spiritual and moral order in society.”

In September 2021, the European Parliament decided same-sex marriages and partnerships should be recognized among E.U. members. The resolution followed a decision of the European Court of Justice in 2018 ruling that the term “spouses” also applied to same-sex couples and, as such, were beneficiaries of the Free Movement Directive, the right to move and reside freely in the E.U.

Romania had refused in 2013 a right of residence of more than three months in the country for an American married in Brussels to a Romanian in 2010 who seized the European Court of Justice.

In 2021, the European Parliament called for infringement procedures, judicial measures, and budgetary tools from the European Commission against member states that breach E.U. values.

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